Lifestyle & Culture

How to learn a language on your own

Jackelyn Bassett explains how DIY language learning can take you from G’day to Guten Tag.


So you’re in a claustrophobic corner store in Madrid, standing at the front of a curling queue of Spaniards close both in proximity to each other and how far they are off losing their temper.

Through the unfamiliar sounds of an exotic language, even in your state of unilingual oblivion, you can detect the universal language of frustration and the shopkeeper is speaking that language as clear as the sweat dripping from his forehead. Who knew buying apples in Madrid would be so difficult? With only a background of “Amigos” and “la Familia” from Dora the Explorer and a hazy knowledge of the chorus to Danza Kuduro, being able to choreograph someone to throw their hands in the air and move their hips isn’t really going to help you in this situation (or let’s face it, any situation you are likely to encounter in your life).

It was this apple crisis in Madrid that was the point where you told yourself that you need to learn Spanish, you and more than one of the disgruntled customers queuing behind you. But what are your options when the Uni doesn’t offer a class for the language of love? It’s time to DIY language learn it!

Your first point of call should be to peruse the app store for some great apps that teach you from the absolute beginning-  heck, even your Dora Explorer knowledge already puts you cartoon worlds ahead. Some of the highest user rated apps include Anki, Memrise, Livemocha, Pimsleur method and Babbel, with Duolingo coming out on top.

Duolingo is definitely my favourite language app because it’s super easy to use and gives you different forms of questions to mix things up a bit. If you are a beginner, the app gives you the option to start from the basics or if you already have some knowledge of the language, you can do a placement test. Duolingo asks you questions such as ‘Which of these if “the man”?’ and gives you four pictures and corresponding words (in the language of your choice). After you have made your selection, it says the word aloud to you. The app then gives you the words you just saw but this time, without pictures and gets you to translate them into English. Duolingo also gives you the chance to speak the words written on the screen and will tell you if your pronunciation is correct (with a much-reduced embarrassment factor than doing so in front of a class). If you do this for a small amount of time every day, you will really start to see progress.

A small change I made was to change the language of my phone and Facebook. This way, I’m constantly faced with words that I don’t know and am forced to learn them. This will lead to your fair share of accidental changes to your unlock PIN and time settings but after all, mistakes are the best way to learn and after 17 times, the word ‘cancelar’ will start to look a lot more similar to cancel.

It’s a good idea to search Facebook for groups of other budding multilinguals who want to practice over a coffee. If there isn’t already a group for the language you are learning, why not start one? Chances are there are others who, inspired by Pitbull’s lyrics, are experiencing the same desire to expand their language skill set.

Raid the library and second-hand bookshops for dictionaries and textbooks. I know for sure that the Beaumont St. bookshop has current German textbooks and an overflowing language section. The Auchmuty library has a section in the Flowers room for language packages that include a book and CD or DVD. These are located near the DVDs and provide hours of valuable language instruction and laughter at the textbook photos documenting early 90s fashion.

So if you’re wanting to enhance your skills or just confuse the Guzman y Gomez employee by ordering in Spanish, spend a little bit of time on apps such as Duolingo every day and you’ll soon be fist-pumping to the Dora Explorer theme screaming “vámonos!”


Designed by Hannah Stroud-Watts

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